Department of State Lands Records Guide

Agency History - 1859-1899

The State Land Board is Oregon’s oldest board. It was established in 1859 as the “Board of Commissioners for the sale of school, and university lands, and for the investment of the funds arising there from” (OL [Deady & Lane] 1843-1872, p. 91, Section 5). The board has retained the same membership (Governor, Secretary of State and State Treasurer) throughout its history.

In 1859, the Oregon Admissions Act ceded to the state the 16th and 36th section of every township for public school use (OL [Deady & Lane] 1843-1872, p.102, Section 4). Where these lands had been previously deeded, the state was authorized to choose other public lands in lieu of these lands. Income generated from this property formed the basis of the Common School Fund. This trust fund was established by the Oregon Constitution in order to support and maintain public schools. Other original fund assets included money paid for exemptions from military service, money accrued to the state from escheats and forfeitures, grants, gifts, bequests, 500,000 acres supplied to Oregon by an 1841 act of Congress and five percent of all proceeds from the
sale of federal land. Furthermore, the federal government granted Oregon ownership of the beds and banks of all navigable waterways in the state including ocean tidelands. Proceeds from the management of these natural resources comprised the principal of the Common School Fund.

The Oregon Admissions Act also provided lands for the establishment of institutions of higher education. This formed the foundation of the Agricultural College (Oregon State University) Trust Fund and the University of Oregon Trust Fund. Money accrued from investing assets was distributed annually toward teachers’ salaries at the schools. DSL still retains oversight responsibility for these trust funds.

Much of the board’s early history was spent defining its powers and procedures. In 1860, the Legislative Assembly authorized the Governor to select and locate the lands and salt springs granted to Oregon by the federal government (OL 1860, p. 72). This law was repealed two years later and replaced with one designating the Governor as Land Commissioner, with the same selection powers held under the previous law (OL 1862, p. 105).

In 1864, formal procedures for selling school lands to settlers were introduced (OL [Deady & Lane] 1843-1872, p. 631). However, there was little interest in the program and the state did not make its first sale until 1871 (OL 1872, p. 120). Sluggish sales later prompted the Legislative Assembly to amend the process by dropping the five-dollar filing fee to help stimulate sales (OL 1874, p. 69). Additionally, the Legislative Assembly passed two laws concerning the sale of overflow and tide lands on the coast in 1872. One declared the procedures under which these lands could be sold, while the other placed ten percent of the money received into the Common School Fund (OL 1872, pp. 128-129). Landowner property rights were more clearly defined in 1874 (OL 1874, p. 77) and 1876 to include several rivers (OL 1876, p. 69).

Legislative refinement of the board’s policies, powers, and duties continued with a major bill passed in 1878. This act set procedures and policies of the board for the next two decades. The new law amended selection and sales procedures; authorized the Governor to appoint a land selection agent, set administrative procedures for record keeping, develop contracts, set meeting dates, control money collecting and distribution and created the Clerk’s Office (OL 1878, p. 41). This office was the direct predecessor of the Department of State Lands.

In 1899, a major administrative reorganization renamed the board to the State Land Board and provided comprehensive guidelines for the selection and sale of school lands and for the management of the money gained (OL 1899, p. 156). The State Land Agent was also added to the board that year as a means of selecting state lands and acquiring new lands to replace the loss of previously deeded lands in sections 16 and 36 of state townships (OL 1899, p. 95). Eight years later, the Legislative Assembly issued a summation of the board’s function providing in greater detail the offices and duties (OL 1907, Ch. 117).

Delta On to historical narrative, 1900-1959

State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us